What Is Customer Engagement? Key Findings from Global Research To Help Your Business Grow

What are the best customer engagement tools, and how can you keep your customers engaged? Our chief digital evangelist shares what works.

Time to read: 11 minutes

Vala Afshar
Chief Digital Evangelist, Salesforce

Media and content experiences like Hulu and Netflix use behavior, data, and technology to  tailor content to your interests – and set the standard for personalized customer engagement. And increasingly, consumers expect brands to know them, anticipate their needs and interests, and serve them only the content and products they want. Customer engagement has never been more important.

According to our annual State of the Connected Customer report, 62% of customers say experiences with one industry influence their expectations of others, and 88% expect companies to accelerate their digital initiatives. Standards of customer engagement are changing, and engagement is about creating seamless experiences that build trust. Ninety-five percent of customers say their trust in a company makes them more likely to remain loyal to that brand.

What is customer engagement?

Customer engagement is delivering connected experiences to your customers instead of single, one-off, or fleeting transactions. It means optimizing your team structure, operations, and technology to create a connected feedback loop with customers. Businesses need to stay informed about customers’ evolving needs, maintain and build their brand integrity, and make ethical use of customer data to help customers have the best experience.

Personalized customer engagement relies on an integrated tech stack. For example, a connected CRM gives your company a single, 360-degree view of every customer. With this insight, your teams can use data to tailor content and experiences to your customers’ unique needs, and help your brand keep pace with rising customer expectations.

Why are customer engagement strategies so important?

Our research found that 80% of customers say the experiences provided by a company are as important to them as its products and services. In other words, the quality of your customer experience has a direct impact on your potential for business success.

“Most companies must realize that they are no longer competing against the guy down the street or the brand that sells similar products,” said Dan Gingiss, author and customer experience expert. “Instead, they’re competing with every other experience a customer has. This presents an opportunity for forward-thinking brands to create positive experiences that customers want to talk about to others. It also suggests that CX [customer experience] professionals should be monitoring the experience at a wide variety of companies and industries for inspiration.”

“Most companies must realize that they are no longer competing against the guy down the street or the brand that sells similar products. Instead, they’re competing with every other experience a customer has.”
- Dan Gingiss, author and customer experience expert

Additionally, every time a brand raises the bar in its industry, it raises the bar for every other industry as well.

“Customers have so much power now,” said Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, EVP of Industries at Salesforce. “In the consumer world of social platforms, every single person has a voice. The rewards of harnessing your most ardent fans are amazing, but customers will also be very vocal when they are displeased. Knowing your customers and understanding their needs has become critical to success, no matter what industry you’re in.”

“Customers have so much power now. The rewards of harnessing your most ardent fans are amazing, but customers will also be very vocal when they are displeased. Knowing your customers and understanding their needs has become critical to success, no matter what industry you’re in.”
- Neeracha Taychakhoonavudh, EVP of Industries at Salesforce

How do you measure customer engagement for marketing, sales, and service?

Measuring customer engagement isn’t always easy.

  • Is a customer who visited your website 10 times last week more engaged than one who spent 15 minutes talking to a sales rep on the phone?
  • Is a new customer who made five recent purchases more engaged than a long-time customer who only buys once a year?
  • Do your answers to these questions change if one customer completes an online survey or recommends your brand to others?

Success looks different for everyone depending on their business goals. Here are some key metrics different departments should monitor.

Customer engagement for marketing.

While the “right message, right channel, right time” mantra still applies, it’s a complicated practice to master. The average customer crisscrosses many different channels on different devices.

Engaging in real time is a marketers’ top priority — and top challenge. Many track mobile and social analytics, in addition to general web traffic and digital engagement rates, to better optimize across media. Forty-eight percent of marketers also track lifetime customer value, the ultimate measure of whether they’re effectively engaging customers and providing the experiences they expect.

“Measuring customer lifetime value is a great start, because it will likely convince companies to invest more in existing customers,” said Dan Gingiss. “That’s as opposed to continuing the infinite loop that is spending on acquisition without regard to the ‘leaky bucket’ on the other end.”

Customer engagement for sales.

For reps, hitting quotas is still critical, but the metric is changing. Instead of focusing on single transactions and net-new customers, sales teams recognize the value in growing existing customer relationships.

Customer engagement for service.

Customer satisfaction remains the ultimate goal and the most-tracked customer service KPI. But in modern service centers, data analytics have brought more granular measures of engagement.

For example, 51% of service teams now track first contact resolution (FCR) rates, and 44% track customer effort scores. Thirty-six percent even track case deflection, a measure of how many customer issues they’re able to prevent in the first place. These trends continue to push companies to rethink how they engage with their customers.

How do you build an effective customer engagement strategy?

Customer success lies in delivering experiences that are personalized and consistently connected in real time. All of these elements are vital to effective customer engagement strategies.

Deliver personalized customer experiences.

Personalization — recognized by marketers as having a big impact across the customer journey — is a given. Customers want a tailored experience as they progress from brand awareness to buying. They also want concierge-like engagement from customer service.

The bar is rising on what constitutes a personalized experience. Sixty-six percent of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. They want you to be that thoughtful neighbor or co-worker who brings your favorite coffee when you’re having a tough week. However, companies continue to fall short of these expectations. Sixty-six percent of customers feel they’re treated as a number, not a person.

Our research found that 68% of customers expect brands to demonstrate empathy, but only 37% of companies deliver. In addition, 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs, but only 34% of them do.

Connect customer experiences across every department.

Sixty-four percent of customers use multiple devices to start and complete single transactions, and the average enterprise uses 900 different applications, only 29% of which are connected. Whether speaking to sales or customer service, in-store or online, over three-quarters of customers expect your brand to speak with one voice.

That means customers’ historical data needs to be accessible to every department. Anyone at your company should be able to quickly access customer information and engage them accordingly – without peppering them with mundane, repetitive questions.

Many companies find it a challenge to live up to these expectations. Nearly 54% of customers said they feel like they’re interacting with siloed departments rather than a unified business. For companies, ensuring a high level of connectivity across channels and devices feels difficult, if not impossible – unless you have the right tools.

From 2019 to 2020, customers who used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction rose from 71% to 74% as did the number of devices (64% to 66%). Fewer customers – 54% dropped from 59% – felt that they were communicating with separate departments and not one company. Only small changes – 66% to 65% of customers – said they had to repeat information to different representatives.

Create reliable and instant customer response.

Eighty-three percent of customers now expect immediate engagement when they contact a company, up from 78% in 2019. Instant gratification is also expected in the way customers purchase, too. Our research found that 70% of customers say convenience is more important than branding.

This mindset also extends to customer service: 65% of customers would rather help themselves through self-service for simple issues.

In short, people are growing impatient with the idea of waiting, and companies are challenged to accelerate engagement and create a two-way dialogue with customers in real time.

Customers expect the right engagement across channels.

Personalized engagement is a top priority for customers. Sixty-six percent of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations. And it’s no longer just a nice-to-have: 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalized, up from 49% in 2019.

What does this level of customer engagement look like? It might mean serving up a customized marketing offer or proactively reaching out to prevent a potential issue. Customers rely on many tools, products, and services to help them work from anywhere, connect with friends, and manage their lives.

Customers also expect tailored messages on each channel. In fact, 76% of customers prefer different channels depending on the context of the message. Multichannel engagement is critical, as 74% of customers say they've used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction – up from 71% in 2019. Meeting these expectations requires an omni-channel workflow for seamless engagement across all media.

Get started with Salesforce and customer engagement.

Become one of the companies to respect customer data and use it to improve their experience with your brand – building their trust and loyalty along the way. With personalized, consistently connected, real-time communication throughout every customer touchpoint, businesses can use data to find new and compelling ways to engage customers and keep them coming back.

Learn how Salesforce Customer 360, the world’s #1 CRM, helps you engage your customers.


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